Bringing MMO dynamics to Web3 business models
Web3 businesses will increasingly include MMO dynamics like competitive/collaborative incentives, tutorial systems and the Steam Workshop for Web3.
Web3 has been heralded as the future of how we engage with people and businesses. However, while the tech underlying Web3 is new, there are many behavioural parallels to be found in a 20-year-old medium: massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) like Fortnite, Second Life, and Runescape. Within these virtual worlds, hundreds of thousands of people—sometimes millions—socialize, create communities, content, and navigate a universe of games and activities.
In particular, I wanted to dive into 3 characteristics of MMOs that have crossover potential and could expand access to and adoption of Web3:
Navigation/curation platforms (like a Web3’s Steam Workshop or App Store)
A few other obvious business models that have already been ported over from MMOs include Guilds (DAOs), personal showrooms (CryptoVoxels, NFT Showroom), gambling/sports betting (BetFury), and virtual pets (CryptoKitties, BattlePets). These characteristics can provide a road map for untapped opportunities in web3.
Tutorial Systems of Web3
Crypto is confusing. There are a wide number of Layer 1/2 protocols & ecosystems to deal with while navigating a fairly nascent bridging experience.
How did we solve this problem in gaming? Handbooks were provided to help users understand how to play a new computer or console video game. Eventually, we understood that tutorial systems needed to be a part of a seamless user experience.
Web3 is a similarly complicated world. For the next billion Web3 users to be onboarded, we need to build processes and experiences that help them understand how to navigate crypto tools and the value they can get. The Web3 equivalent of tutorial systems currently revolves around using Discord, Youtube, Reddit or paying for Coursera-type crypto education courses. These “handbooks” are too formal, highlight gaps between theory and practice, and may not be fully optimized for those trying to make a decision of whether they should be spending more time in this new Web3 environment.
In thinking about best practices drawn from the gaming ecosystem, as Matthew Miller, former Lead Designer for City of Heroes notes in the context of games, “You need to teach as much as possible, while simultaneously teaching as little as possible. It’s a balancing act. You want to ensure the player knows how to play your game, while at the same time you don’t want the tutorial to feel like a lecture where you should be taking notes because you never know what’s going to be “on the test.”
Bree Royce of Massively Overpowered, an MMO magazine, notes that “the best newbie onboarding system is a game that encourages community at all levels, rewards teaming up across levels, and actively works to foster and support player relationships.”
There are a few platforms that are focused on building gamified onboarding systems to different aspects of Web3 (from lending to purchasing NFTs, to being a liquidity provider, etc) with a built-in reward mechanism (“Learn to Earn”). Earn.com (now part of Coinbase), Rabbithole.gg, and Balaji’s 1729.com (ex-founder of Earn.com) aim to a clearer onboarding and tutorial system for new Web3 users. The gamified experience, with financial incentives at each step, helps to find the balance of what Matthew Miller mentioned between teaching as much and as little as possible.
Much like an MMO tutorial, users are rewarded for using tools and systems that they would need to learn to fully immerse in an environment. Rabbithole.gg gamifies the process with experience points and rewards for small tasks/actions and breaks down the range of activities that a user can choose to undertake within Web3 (Lending, joining DAOs, buying NFTs, etc). 1729.com rewards users for completing various tasks with Bitcoin. Community-based aspects of the Web3 tutorial system are still fairly nascent. One potential example is Buildspace, which has built a gamified community-based learning platform for those looking to start learning in Solidity, with NFTs given out as rewards, and homework answers required to be shared with the Discord community while advancing through the course.
We have also started to see wallets (like Zapper) adopt a quest-like functionality to onboard users into various crypto use-cases. DAOs have also seen a recent rise in platforms focused entirely on helping to streamline onboarding users into DAOs, to help them discover
A great tutorial system for crypto would be one that teaches beginners how to safely purchase assets, rewards experimentation with different use-cases, allows easy visibility to all assets across wallets, while encouraging community-based interactions.
The Steam workshop of Web3
When users search for games within the Steam gaming platform, they navigate the service using the Steam Workshop, which standardizes the onboarding and distribution of various game projects, akin to the iPhone App Store. Users are confident they are able to search and discover a curated set of projects and filter according to need, reviews and functionalities. We are missing a Steam Workshop for Web3.
An equivalent Steam Workshop for web3 could solve the problem of Search for users, and the problem of Distribution for developers, and streamline the onboarding of new crypto users.
Some core features that could be built include:
Solving for trust (potentially via reviews)
Solving for Search/Discovery (via curated lists)
Solving for activity aggregation (for e.g. via a personal dashboard of assets/activity across ecosystems/DApps)
DAOs are also emerging as an area where an App Store approach providing curated search and discovery is needed. DaoHaus.club, for example, allows users to search for DAOs according to a range of criteria and natively interact with the DAOs on-platform.
Technical onboarding support and standardization is one key benefit of an ecosystem App store approach. For example, navigating the “workshop” for Polkadot may navigate the wallet onboarding process in an easier way, similar to how the Steam Workshop/ App Store have standardized the way consumers think about onboarding and consuming new Apps. An App store approach, if developed, would also allow for a more seamless UI, and provide a vector for single-sign-in (i.e. Sign in with Ethereum) consolidation (especially imagining the App Store for Ethereum and all Ethereum L1/L2s).
Newer Layer-1 networks such as Solana and Avalanche have incrementally worked towards an ‘App store’ approach by trying to solve discoverability on their own websites (as seen below). I believe we will see a multi-chain App store equivalent that will allow consumers to dive deeper into the user experience through curation and reviews.
Steam workshop/App Store for Web3 dynamics would also be a catalyst for embedding the existing Creator Economy into all aspects of crypto businesses.
As the ‘browser’ to Web3, Wallets may also find value in creating their own Web3 app store to allow developers to build and sell plug-ins (e.g. lightweight analytics, alerts) that improve the native experience and utility of their wallets.
Play to Earn games will also find this concept increasingly relevant. Given the growing debate on the viability of Play-to-Earn games, User Generated Content has been seen as one of the potential avenues for sustainable economics. This is given the increased attention to turn Play to Earn games into platforms for players to exchange value independent of any Play to Earn dynamics in the game itself. For User Generated Content to work, Steam workshop dynamics will arise, either on a protocol level (i.e. interoperable GameFi marketplace) or within specific Play to Earn games.
Embedding Player-to-Player Competition & Collaboration (“P2P”)
In games like Fortnite and Runescape, games were fundamentally used as a platform to allow users to compete against each other and collaborate with each other. In a NewZoo study of gamer personalities, a strong resonance for collaborative and competitive behaviours was found among a significant percentage of surveyed gamers.
Encouraging collaborative and competitive dynamics among Web3 users is a crucial missing ingredient in the Web3 ecosystem. This is not unique to games. If we think about the Web2 financial ecosystem, we see r/wsb retail investors collaborating and picking sides against Wall Street, banding together within a community, and fighting against an “other.”
I believe player-to-player (P2P) competitiveness and collaboration will unlock a wave of innovation and adoption within Web3. P2P is defined here as creating structured environments for players to compete or collaborate with each other in individuals or identified teams, rather than against the broader environment/ market.
There are three ways to think about how platforms can embed P2P mechanics in the Web3 context:
Firstly, utilizing existing crypto-native communities and building P2P mechanics on top of these communities
Secondly, utilizing existing IRL communities and porting them over to Web3.
Lastly, utilizing crypto-native innovations that have P2P potential, like Martingale Shares.
Channelling crypto-native communities
We are still in the early days of a crypto zeitgeist, but NFT culture has been actively pushing the creation of communities, with the emergence of various famous NFTs, including Bored Apes, CryptoPunks, etc. NFTs for example, have been used as instruments for social coordination and resource pooling, for a variety of purposes including supporting social impact, investments, or enabling collective ownership of public goods.
While these communities are emerging, we have already started to see the development of P2P utility between various NFT communities in crypto gaming. For example, Onisquad is developing games to work on top of pre-existing NFT-based communities. They aim to co-opt IP and NFT assets into their game mechanics, as opposed to creating an entirely new NFT universe from scratch.
Given the interoperability of crypto ecosystems, we are likely to see more tools and platforms pop up looking to serve the existing and emerging crypto brands and strengthen crypto-native communities.
Leveraging existing In-Real-Life communities
In addition to crypto-native communities, existing affinity and fan groups in sports and celebrities can be ported over into a Web3 context. In the field of sports, one of the first emerging areas of crypto, it is unsurprising that we have seen a huge amount of attention to porting over IRL communities into the crypto world. Sorare raised a large Series B rounds tackling NFT football cards and fantasy football management.
Users on Sorare can build fantasy football squads and play them off each other, providing a P2P use-case for NFTs.
Other potential P2P functionalities may also include crypto live sports betting with live chat functionalities (bearing in mind potential regulatory constraints around sports-betting), or music fans betting on the outcome of livestream music duels/battles.
An example of a ‘livestream battle’ in China on a Web2 platform, which does not exist to a large extent outside China.
The ability for crypto to facilitate a seamless exchange of value means that betting dynamics can now be embedded into existing consumer-facing platforms.
Embracing crypto-native innovations
We are in the early days of seeing how a seamless exchange of value can create innovative ways of engaging parties in a competitive way. One of the most recent experiments that fall into this category is the concept of Martingale shares.
Martingale shares are a mechanism that gives you a share of any underlying asset, as well as essentially a time-based lottery ticket for the rest of the shares of the asset. As each day passes, the algorithm gives a 50% chance that you receive another share from someone else, or you might lose your existing share to another shareholder.
These competitive mechanics can be gamified and modified for a P2P experience. During Call of Duty Mobile’s popular free Tournament events, users can join and perform various in-game tasks for a temporary “clan” to increase the probability of winning a set of rewards. This in-game mechanics has parallels to Martingale shares, in that users can be incentivized to perform actions to increase the probability of winning a rare prize on behalf of their team. In this context, Martingale shares disincentivize inactivity since a team gaining an increased probability to win increasing fractions of a prize can compound quickly. The actions that Web3 users can undertake to increase their probability of winning might include performing various organizational tasks (marketing, ops, etc) within a project/DAO or within P2E games.
The Wolf game is another recent example of crypto-native innovation around probabilistic ownership between parties. Players can own one of two types of NFTs: Wolves or Sheep. Sheep NFTs can be staked to earn the game’s native token, but wolves have the ability to probabilistically steal both the native token and even the Sheep NFT from the opposing sheep team. Although firstly designed an incentive mechanism to encourage long-term holding, this also forms a foundation for team-based combat.
The ability for Martingale shares and other types of crypto-innovations to incentivize competitive actions that are a net positive for a project/DAO will help with the evolution of Web3 from a single-player experience to a multiplayer game.
In conclusion, in drawing parallels between the user journey of MMOs and the gamified experiences of Web3, we see business model opportunities emerge, both in platforms currently being launched, as well as opportunities that could emerge. As UI/UX continues to dramatically improve in Web3, an area that has historically lagged in development, we can also expect to see many of the mechanics in onboarding, collaboration, and navigation.
Thanks to Dan Shipper, Kirill So, Ryan Foo, Lucas Tcheyan, Lauren for input/comments. Input does not imply endorsement.